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WARSAW — Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is fighting for its political life ahead of next month’s general election — and in its race for votes, it is aiming for the country’s alliance with Ukraine.
The latest blow came from Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who said on Wednesday that Poland had stopped shipments of its own weapons to Ukraine.
“We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine, because we are now equipping Poland with more modern weapons,” Morawiecki told Polish Polsat television.
It is true that Poland sent most of its Soviet-era tanks, fighters and other weapons to Ukraine and has little left in its stockpiles. Warsaw will also continue to allow arms shipments from other allies to transit through its territory.
“Poland continues to function as a hub for international aid,” government spokesman Piotr Müller said, adding that the country was fulfilling its existing military supply contracts with Ukraine.
But Morawiecki’s comments come at a time when relations between Warsaw and Kiev are the frostiest since the Russian invasion a year and a half ago, and add to the perception that the nationalist party is undermining its alliance with Ukraine for electoral purposes.
“Morawiecki was not saying anything that was not obvious… but saying such a thing at such a time aggravates the conflict,” said Marcin Zaborowski, director of the Globsec think tank.
The catalyst is grain.
Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have closed their markets to imports of Ukrainian grain, in violation of European Union single market rules, arguing the need to protect their farmers from falling prices.
Ukraine retaliated by filing a lawsuit against them at the World Trade Organization. He also threatened to block some Polish agricultural exports to Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelensky attacked these countries at the United Nations this week, saying: “Alarmingly, some in Europe are playing solidarity with political theater – turning the grain into a thriller… they are helping to set the stage for a conflict in Moscow. actor.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda canceled a meeting with Zelensky in New York due to a scheduling conflict, and Ukraine’s ambassador in Warsaw was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to explain. Morawiecki described relations with kyiv as “difficult.”
In Poland, the main reason for the move is the need for PiS to consolidate its support among rural voters and also to ward off supporters of the far-right Confederation Party, many of whose supporters are skeptical about the aid to Ukraine.
“The Ukrainians mercilessly took advantage of the fact that the Polish government was an idiot, emphasized their sympathy, which of course was not there, took the money, and now they are going to declare a trade war on us,” said the head of the Confederation Sławomir Mentzen to the Polish press.
Jacek Kucharczyk, director of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank, called the ruling party’s change in tone a “desperate electoral ploy.”
According to the POLITICO poll, PiS enjoys the support of 38 percent of voters, while the Civic Coalition, the main opposition party, gets 29 percent. If this is the case, Law and Justice will not have enough seats in Parliament to govern alone and will therefore have to try to form a coalition; The Confederation is the most likely target, although the party says it will not associate with PiS.
But the trends seem worrying for PiS.
The government has been hit by a growing visa-for-bribes scandal, for which the European Commission is now demanding an explanation. A new poll by United Surveys shows that if the main opposition parties unite, they could form a majority government after the October 15 election.
The turnaround towards Ukraine could help consolidate part of the PiS electoral base. But this could cause other problems.
This undermines the government’s main foreign policy victory. After years of bitter conflicts with the European Union and other key allies over the rule of law, media freedom and the rollback of democratic norms, Poland’s strong support for Ukraine has changed the speech in Brussels and Washington.
Millions of ordinary Poles helped Ukrainian refugees fleeing the border immediately after the Russian attack. The Polish government sent tanks and fighter jets to Ukraine at a time when many other countries were reluctant to send such equipment to kyiv, fearing Russian retaliation. Warsaw was also happy to point out the shortcomings of European countries like Germany and France.
Zelensky even called Poland his “sister.”
In a speech to the Polish nation last year in Polish, he said: “I will remember how you welcomed us, how you help us. The Poles are our allies, your country is our sister. Your friendship forever. Our friendship forever. Our love forever. Together we will be victorious.
Opinion polls show there is still strong support for aid to Ukraine, with around three-quarters of Poles willing to welcome refugees.
“The risk is that PiS voters largely support pro-Ukrainian policies, and such a rapid policy change might be difficult to explain,” Kucharczyk said.
PiS has played with skepticism about Ukraine in the past – raising the issue of wartime massacres of Poles by Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas – but the overarching message was that Poland is the most friendly farm of Ukraine.
This change of discourse is welcomed in Moscow.
In New York, Duda compared Ukraine to a desperate person who is drowning.
“A drowning person is extremely dangerous, they can drag you into the depths…just drown the rescuer,” Duda said.
This received the approval of the Kremlin.
“I have never agreed with Duda so strongly as after this statement. Everything he said is correct,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
The Polish opposition is also on the attack.
Radosław Sikorski, a former Polish foreign minister and now a member of the European Parliament for the Civic Coalition, called Morawiecki’s comments “criminally stupid.”
“Even if we don’t have much to give, why is he saying this in public! Does he really want (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to calculate that one or two more efforts will bring down Ukraine?” he tweeted.
kyiv is now trying to minimize any break with Warsaw.
Oleksandr Merezhko, chairman of Ukraine’s parliamentary committee on foreign relations, said he believed Morawiecki’s comments on weapons were not linked to the growing trade fight.
“Like any politician, I know that during an election campaign, the rhetoric can be very emotional,” he said.
Bartosz Brzeziński and Veronika Melkozerova contributed reporting.